Umberto Eco was a well-known academician when his first novel, Il nome della rosa, was published in Italy in 1980. By the time the book was translated into English by William Weaver as The Name of the Rose in 1983, Eco had achieved literary superstardom. With its medieval setting, Sherlock Holmes-like main character, and seemingly traditional detective plot, The Name of the Rose was a popular and critical success, later made into a film starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater.
In addition to achieving worldwide popularity, the novel was also a sort of philosophical treatise, a place for Eco to test his own theories of signs and language. The Name of the Rose clearly demonstrates the influence of Jorge Luis Borges, the great Argentine writer who also reveled in both philosophy and detective fiction.
Eco followed this novel in 1988 with Il pendolo di Foucault, translated into English by William Weaver and published as Foucault’s Pendulum in 1989. This volume does not fit easily into the mystery and detective genre because it is in many ways a parody; nevertheless, the book, with its endless array of esoteric clues and obligatory corpses has led many critics to see in it the inspiration for Dan Brown’s 2003 The Da Vinci Code.
Although Eco has offered only two novels to the field of mystery and detective fiction, his contribution has nonetheless been enormous, largely because of the way he has both expanded and subverted the traditional conventions of the genre.